Friday, June 21, 2024

FILLED WITH EMPTINESS – The Power of Presence

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing...not healing, not curing...that is a friend who cares.” 
HENRI NOUWEN                      
                                                   ~            ~     

It’s taken me a very long time to realize that just sitting, with no task, no agenda, no expectation, is not a waste of time.

“Just being” is something infants and old folks do very well. I suppose you could say that’s because they can’t walk and their hands don’t work very well. But more important than how they might have come to be so acutely in the present moment is the fact that only the most cynical observer would ever conclude from their lack of “productiveness” that they’re squandering their potential.

What a shame that the art of just being is so lost on the rest of us! For it’s in that state, devoid of ambition and guile, liberated from presumption, that we’re best able to experience what I’d argue are the human pursuits of the highest order: curiosity, compassion and wonder.

            There are some worthwhile goals
            that don’t fall within the reach
            of anyone who’s reaching.


By the time we’re in grade school, most of us have already been indoctrinated with the familiar mantras: keep your nose to the grindstone; idle hands make for the devil’s work; work hard enough and everything will be fine. You know, the good old American dream. Trouble is, there are some worthwhile goals that don’t fall within the reach of anyone who’s reaching.

We’re all conditioned to place enormous value on the past and the future. We think the past, the sum total of all our life experiences to date, defines who we are. We think the future is where all our hopes and dreams—and fears—will play out.

In fact, we tend to focus so much of our mental and emotional energy on the “then” and the “when” that we fail to fully experience the “now.” And, as much as we’d like to think we can do it, no one can be in two places at the same time.

I learned a lot about just being during my parents’ last days in this life. These lessons come naturally when you’re with someone who can no longer communicate with words. You sit there. Maybe you talk a little, hoping the person understands you at some level. But mostly, you just sit.

I continue to refine this art in my work as a hospice volunteer, in which capacity I’ve witnessed at least 30 people’s ultimate lettings-go.

Sitting with someone—or, for that matter, sitting with Nature—may seem like an old-fashioned idea, like visiting or courting. These are things no one used to think much about; there were fewer options, fewer distractions, so they just did them. 

      It’s in precisely such moments of “emptiness”
   that we are most apt to be fulfilled.

Now that most of us are on call wherever we go, connected 24/7 to each other and to all the information that ever was, it’s gotten harder and harder not to feel we should be productive to some degree nearly all the time.

But it’s in precisely such moments of “emptiness” that we are most apt to be fulfilled. That’s when we let go of any notion that, somehow, we’re in control, that there’s something we should be doing or thinking, or that anything but our presence matters.

It’s only by clearing the decks of this preoccupation with stuff from the past and future that we can be truly open to a communion with the present, whether with our own true spirit, the soul of a loved one, or the astounding beauty of Nature’s gifts that surround and fill us.

            We tend to focus so much of our
            mental and emotional energy on the
            “then” and the “when” that we fail
            to fully experience the “now.”


To be truly in the moment is a difficult concept for some people to grasp. After all, how can you achieve something that’s accessibly only to those who don’t try to achieve it? Is it really possible to notice the absence of everything? Can you really hear silence, feel emptiness?

You can if you’re ready. Just as a sponge can’t absorb a spill until it’s wrung out, you can’t understand these things without first wringing from your consciousness the concerns and constructs that saturate your mind.

Perhaps the one mental construct that clashes most with just being is our notion of time. We imagine our lives as linear paths; we move along a time line. Each day, each experience we have becomes another part of our past, that which defines who we are.

And the line extending in front of us, the future, holds all the experiences we will have from now on, illuminated by our hopes and dreams.

       Outside of the present moment, nothing—
       literally, nothing—exists.

Curiously, we even see the spatial aspect of our existence as linear, imagining, again, that only those places where we’ve been and where we’re to go delineate the sphere of our existence. Imagine walking through a Costa Rican rain forest, touring the Musee D’Orsay or even riding the bus home from work, looking nowhere else but straight ahead or straight behind you. Would anyone consider this a whole experience?

As Eckhart Tolle says in his wonderful book, The Power of Now, these linear paradigms are just illusions we’ve invented to help us deal with the incomprehensible reality of the infinite.

If you're looking to the past, the future or a change of scene for the secret of happiness, you're looking in the wrong place. If fact, it makes no sense to be looking at all, since you already possess it; it’s already inside of you, part of you.

This is why just being is such a compelling, articulate force. Notwithstanding its utter simplicity—or, perhaps, because of it—it is a most eloquent expression of a reality few of us are ready to grasp, that, outside of the present moment, nothing—literally, nothing—exists.

Even the most defining moments of your past exist only as you interpret and apply their lessons now. Even your fondest wish, your most compelling goal, exists only in the work you begin now to realize it.


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